As Need for Genetic Counselors Grows, So Does Move to License Them: California Latest State to..

As Need for Genetic Counselors Grows, So Does Move to License Them: California Latest State to License Specialists

July 25, 2011

As complicated and sometimes frightening genetic information becomes increasingly available to patients, there is a growing movement to license genetic counselors, the experts in helping patients understand and use genetic information. California – home to one in 10 U.S. genetic counselors – recently became the 13th state to license the specialists. Eighteen other states are considering licensing genetic counselors.

Nearly a third of genetic counselors in the country are licensed, and that percentage continues to grow.

“Licensure is an important safeguard for patients because it protects them against those who are not qualified to provide this important service, which is increasingly in demand,” said Karin Dent, a licensed and certified genetic counselor and president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC). “Full licensure guarantees that genetic counselors are certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling and confirms that they are staying up-to-date on the latest advances in the field.”

Rapid advances in genetic technology have provided access to much more genetic information than ever before, but patients often don’t know what to do with the information. For instance, the proliferation of over-the-counter genetic tests to determine your risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer has led many individuals to take these tests without understanding what the results may mean, or how they might impact their lives. 

Genetic counselors have specialized training in medical genetics and counseling and have at least a master’s degree in their field, and can explain and translate information for patients. 

NSGC recommends that patients taking these tests, or who have other health concerns with a genetic component, see a licensed genetic counselor. Genetic counselors must be licensed to practice if they work in states that require licensure. In states that don’t license the specialists, NSGC suggests patients check to see if the genetic counselor is certified by ABGC. “All states should move to license these health care practitioners to ensure genetic counselors are indeed qualified to provide these valuable services,” said Dent.

Among the services provided by genetic counselors:

  • Helping people understand and adapt to medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease
  • Eliciting and interpreting complicated genetic information, including personal and family histories
  • Calculating the risk of occurrence or recurrence of genetic condition
  • Imparting clear, accurate, comprehensive information regarding medical conditions with a genetic component, including risks, symptoms, screening, treatment and testing options
  • Providing psychosocial support to people coping with a genetic condition

For more information or to find a genetic counselor in your area, visit

About the National Society of Genetic Counselors

NSGC is the leading voice, authority and advocate for the genetic counseling profession. The Society represents more than 2,400 health professionals, most of whom provide direct patient care (totaling more than one million visits per year). Members are employed in a wide range of clinical care, academic, research and biotechnology settings, and are located in every state of the U.S. and internationally. The organization is committed to ensuring that the public has access to genetic counseling and genetic testing.  For more information, visit

NSGC Media Contact:
Veronica Jackson
Public Communications Inc.

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